Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Dump the Throne Speech in the trash

Published:Monday | February 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer Governor General Sir Patrick Allen delivering the Throne Speech on Thursday

What really is the utility of the ceremonial opening of Parliament?

Each year, the governor general turns up in Parliament and reads a prepared statement on the plans of the Government for the new legislative year. They call this the Throne Speech.

The statement records the achievements in the previous year but is silent on failures. It's delivered, disappears into thin air, and within an hour, this expensive, extravagant and totally unnecessary exercise is over.

But what really does it achieve? I think nothing substantial. The ceremonial opening only offers an opportunity for the governor general to show that the extent of his relevance is to read a speech, for parliamentarians to show off their Sunday best and for the underused military to just do what they do best: pretend to be important.

It is clear Jamaicans are not interested in this song and dance.

Having lost much of the partisan crowd that normally turns out to see legislators make their way to Parliament for the ceremonial opening, the establishment would not have been shocked by the half-empty gallery on Thursday. People just stayed away; they are no longer interested in this ceremonial crap, and, as MP Raymond Pryce puts it, the people are tuning out.

Well, the people have tuned out because they are tired of hearing, year after year, the same announcements being made while they are unable to see the tangible benefits in their lives.

Unlike Pryce, The Gavel doesn't believe renaming the Throne Speech will reinvigorate the Jamaican people. Thursday's opening further indicated that Jamaicans have grown weary of political and parliamentary affairs. What is perhaps needed is a radical overhaul of the system of governance here.

The first casualty should be the Throne Speech, whether by that or any other name. There's absolutely no reason why that which the governor general says cannot be said in the Budget Debate by the prime minister.

 

scrap opening

 

The proposal, though, is not just to get rid of the Throne Speech. The ceremonial opening - except in instances where a new Parliament is to be sworn in - ought to be scrapped.

By the way, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has to be careful not to come off as being incredible. Shortly after the Throne Speech was delivered, he told journalists outside Gordon House that there were no references to growth in the presentation.

Having gone through the document, I have seen the word growth used five times. One must state quickly that even if the word growth appeared 100 times, it would not mean that the Government would be any more or less serious about growth in the economy.

It's surprising that Holness had so much time on his hands that he would go through the document and count the number of times a particular word appears. If he actually did that, it would be most petty of him.

The opposition leader does, in fact, make an important point about the deafening silence of the governor general, in the Throne Speech, on the much-talked about logistics hub and the Goat Islands development. The Government has been vocal about these projects which, if they were to materialise, would create jobs galore for Jamaicans and lead to much-needed economic growth.

But maybe the silence is an admission that they were always pipe dreams and are all but dead in the water.

Legislators could help restore credibility and restore interest in the governance process by being absolutely honest about the deliverability of projects being promised.

Among the significant pieces of legislation on the agenda for 2015-16 is the Administrator General's (Amendment) Bill to address long-standing problems of administering multigenerational intestate estates.

It will allow the administrator general to administer those estates where there are minor beneficiaries without having to obtain a grant of letters of administration from the court. This will make it much easier to pass on property to the established next of kin.

This, however, is a bill that should have been delivered two years ago. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should explain its delay.

Similarly, she must explain the continued delay in the tabling of the National Building Bill to provide a modern legal framework for the effective regulation and management of building works and building-related activities; the legislation to establish a National DNA Database, so critical to modern investigation of crime; and the Criminal Justice Administration (Amendment) Bill, which will make provision for sentence reduction on guilty pleas, removing the existing disincen-tive to pleading guilty to offences which carry mandatory minimum sentences.

Those bills have long been promised, and their continued absence only serves to widen the credibility gap between the Government and the people.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com